Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Importance of Context

I'm not one who generally jumps down society's throat for relativism. I think it's generally an OK (not terrible and not great) thing. We're somewhat better than we used to be at allowing people to be different from each other without being judged inherently bad for their differences. That's a good side of relativism.

Where I think relativism is disastrous is in our communication. Whether sending or receiving, relativism wreaks havoc on understanding. We cannot be very relativistic when it comes to deciding for someone else what he or she meant to say. One way we can keep our relativism in check is for us to take contexts seriously.

Considering how our "sound byte"-loving Western society chucks context out the window in favor of what sounds good on air or looks good in print or in the 'sphere, we're anti-context communicators. We need to provide context if we wish to stand any chance of being understood, and we need to consider context if we wish to understand anyone else.

I'm a minister, one who makes a significant portion of my living serving and serving among a congregation of Christians. As such, I take the Bible very seriously and I cherish it above all other books. Indeed, I consider it uniquely inspired by God. One of the ways I take it seriously is in taking the effort to reading it in context. It is not enough, for me, to be able to quote a verse here or there to "prove" some point or other. It troubles me greatly when Christians use it in that way (known as proof-texting) to attack other Christians. What any given verse or fragment says, often means something very different when we read or hear it outside its context, than within it.

Slavery was often supported through proof-text here in the U.S.A. Subjugation of women still is. In the current day it gets proof-texted to tell people they must vote according to a particular party, limit their attire to certain types of garments, cover or not cover their heads, prohibit make-up and cutting hair for women, hate same-sex-attracted people, and say all kinds of outrageously false things about God. In short, any of us with sufficient knowledge OF the Bible, can use it to further our own extrabiblical preferences.

The context for Christians, of course, must include the witness of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. I think it's irresponsible for any Christian to declare that thus and such is true, based on a verse or two, when the witness of Christ shows that declaration to be incomplete or downright false. We can't appeal to some verse in Leviticus or Numbers as binding on us today, without taking into account the original "audience" of that verse (what if it's part of the code for the priests, for example?) and seeing how it is informed by the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord.

I'm not going to get into further specifics here. It's simply a dangerous, inaccurate trend that many of my Christian brothers and sisters engage in with relish. It's yet another way of dividing the body of Christ into "us vs. them," despite Christ's prayer that we all should be one. Like it or not, Christ intends for us to work together, even when the toes and ankles of the Body think they have nothing in common with the nose and the eyelashes.

1 comment:

Catherine + said...

What a truly lovely blog! I simply adore Sir Thomas Wyatt!

You have hit the proverbial nail on the head, psalmist.

May I list your blog on my blog links? Please send me an email and let me know!

God bless the Methodists. My mom was one and I was baptized in her church and later confirmed an Episcopalian.

God bless you in your ministry.